The Secret of the Stone Circle

28 January 2011

The Secret of the Stone CircleThe Secret of the Stone Circle
by Judith Silverthorne
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$8.95  ISBN 978-1-55050-431-6

Sometimes my manic-paced life gets away from me and reading for pleasure falls by the wayside. When too much time passes, I’m in danger of forgetting how enjoyable it is to put my feet up, open a book, and allow myself to transport into the lives and landscapes of fictional characters. There’s so much to learn, feel, and yet how many of us regularly set aside time for it?

Shortly after I dived into Judith Silverthorne’s juvenile novel The Secret of the Stone Circle, I was reminded of what I’d been missing.  Each time I put the book down I’d feel a “tug,” and look forward to returning.  What was happening with the characters?  How would the plot evolve?  A good book is like that: it gets its hooks into you.

In Silverthorne’s latest book, the prolific and award-winning Regina writer again introduces readers to a contemporary character who travels back in time.  Young Emily, the likeable protagonist, travels to Scotland to spend time with her geologist father (whom she’s not seen since her parents decided to divorce, months before), and to learn more about her family’s Scottish ancestry.  Before leaving, however, she finds a hand mirror – “with intricate filigree metalwork and inlaid stones” – in her recently-deceased grandmother’s home, and the image in the mirror is not Emily’s own.

Thus begins a unique mystery and Emily’s diligent search to learn more about her ancestral people and places, like the Abbey of Deer, an ancient monastery; and Aikey Brae, the stone circle of the title, where the vicious battle between Edward the Bruce and the Buchans was fought in the 1300s.

Silverthorne meticulously weaves past, present, and three cultures.  A character from the present, Angus Peters, drives a lime green MG sports car and seems to be flirting.  Mairead, an elderly housekeeper for Laird Elgivin, has “gypsy blood” and recognizes that Emily “has the second sight.”  At one point Emily feels homesick and wishes for “a plain hamburger” instead of the chips, peas and sausage roll she’s served in a Scottish pub.

The author credibly evokes a Scots flavour through words like “quinie” (lass), “laird,” “claymore,” and “kirk”.  Mairead uses the word “Dewlessa,” a Romani blessing.  I appreciated the research that obviously went into this book.  I learned, for example, that the Roma people were a sect “from the warrior classes of northern India.”  Around 800 AD they were driven from their homes and they wandered in Persia and Egypt for centuries.  They became known as “Little Egyptians,” from which the word “gypsy” derives.

Also evocative are details about the natural world, ie: “The quiet peacefulness was broken only by the slight gurgling of a nearby brook and the whirring wings of a ptarmigan in the yew tress behind her.  Overhead a flock of starlings soared.”

The Secret of the Stone Circle is another in a long line of victories for Judith Silverthorne, and for publisher Coteau Books.  I was hooked.  So glad I took the time.


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